PHOTO: Keith Carlsen
Just last week, I went skiing for ladies' night at Mount Hood Skibowl. After work, my friends--Katie and Jessy--and I piled into a Subaru with our skis and gear and drove the hour between the city and the mountain. Suburbs abruptly gave way to empty fields and forests. The road started to climb. Snowbanks appeared out of the darkness. A full moon flirted with the clouds. A storm was coming, but the snowflakes that had started to fall in the city hadn't caught us just yet. We pulled into the parking lot at 6 p.m., booted up, and bought our tickets, which cost $24 if you had two X Chromosomes. I appreciated the discount, and the recognition.
Katie knew the mountain better than Jessy and I, so we followed her to the top of a steep alleyway. She gave me dibs. I dove in, and at the bottom, turned around to watch my friends. I've always loved the way women ski. Their balance is more upright and the momentum comes from the hips. It doesn't seem so forced, more like a dance. They ski fast, light on their feet, quick to respond. And it's relatable. From afar, I've admired Ingrid Backstrom, because she's a pioneer for women in the ski industry, a mother, and because she has the most beautiful, poised turn I've ever seen.
A few years ago, I was skiing with a group of women at a work event. We called the afternoon of hot laps Lady Shred, and it became a regular thing. Every year since, a mob of costumed and ripping lady skiers take over the ski resort for a few hours. Last year I wore a wig, a sweater that my grandmother knitted, and blue jeans. Another friend wore star-spangled-banner leggings. Another pulled a blow-up innertube ducky around her waist. We looked ridiculous, but that was also the point. It is a rare celebration for that many women to ski en masse, and the afternoon felt like a statement--that we have arrived, and we are beautiful, and we are strong.
Even before Lady Shred, I had recognized the draw of skiing with other women, and I often preferred it. In my late 20s, my girlfriends pulled me through a dark time by simply calling me up to go skiing. They inspired me, in a way that helped me break free of the pressure and judgment over athletic performance that I had put on myself, in large part because I wanted to keep up with my then-boyfriend and his friends. These women helped me claim skiing as my own sport, my own lifestyle, my own passion. It didn't matter how good of a skier I was. It was just skiing, and it was fun. It didn't matter how fast I went. I also realized I laughed a lot more when I skied with women.
Perhaps this affinity is not explicitly about gender. After all, guys ski together all the time without proclaiming it a Man Shred. (Though that really doesn't have the same ring to it.) On the other hand, have you ever showed up to a chairlift on a powder day to find more women standing in line than men? That's exactly why skiing with women requires effort and is so necessary to build emotional connection and camaraderie.
Women are natural-born community builders. We are nurturers and mentors. That's what we bring to skiing, and it's needed: When high-speed chairs and rockered skis mean powder is tracked out faster than ever, when the backcountry is exploding with overuse, when competition becomes a daily occurance, and social media fuels exaggerated egos--community-builders strengthen our connection to each other, they remind us of why we are here in the first place.
It is out of that community, that spirit of comfortable, reliable camaraderie, that skiing has made me a feminist. To me, being a feminist means--among the many other definitions of the word--supporting women and helping other women realize their strengths, joys, and talents. Because of the power I have felt as a woman in skiing, doors opened that would change my life.
I traveled across oceans and to the highest points of foreign mountains. I met many more women who instilled confidence and power in me, like my friend Laura. Once, when we were in Chamonix, we looked up a frightening, daunting couloir. I doubted I could make it to the top, but she told me to take it one step at a time, that it was okay to go slow, that I could do it. She taught me the correct technique, while the two men in our group had long climbed far ahead of us. Now, when we look at the photos of us climbing that near-vertical bootpack we can't help but burst into laughter: That was a ridiculous climb, but I made it to the summit and on the descent, we skied boot-top powder for thousands of feet among the heavenly Alps.
Skiing opened another door to my career. Coming into the ski industry, I knew that I would be working in a male-dominated environment. But I didn't know that the women I would meet would become instant allies and steadfast friends. I didn't know feminism is alive and well in the ski world--even though women still only occupy 33 percent of the workforce in the consumer industry, according to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum citing the world’s 371 leading global employers--and that I would tap into such a passionate, inspired, and motivated network of likeminded people.
This gives me hope. I am optimistic that the skiing community can join the chorus of groups fighting for women's rights--for equal pay and representation, for access to health care and a clean, safe standard of living.
These fundamental rights translate to skiing: For some of us, our mothers taught us how to ski, so let's make sure new mothers have job security with maternity leave to raise the next generation of shredders. For the women who choose not to be mothers, let's ensure they have access to health care and birth control so they can make their own decisions about their bodies and have the chance to find the passions that drive them--perhaps they'll plant roots to become a lifelong skier.
Women, especially in male-dominated mountain towns, deserve to feel safe, too. One in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime; and one in five women have been raped. For ski communities to thrive, they must be beacons of safety and egalitarianism.
Today, Donald Trump, a man who has done a number of things to outrage many woman, environmentalists, and skiers, will be sworn into the presidency of the United States. I have a lot of fear and trepidation about the message Trump sends to men across the world, giving them permission to treat women with disrespect. That is why on Saturday, January 21, I plan to join the thousands of women who will gather for the Women’s March in cities across the country to counter Trump's example.
I look back at how indebted I am to the women around me. Every cause must have a reason, and mine is to give back, to show other women how to find their own power, how to take ownership, how to find joy--and skiing is my tool.
Last week at Skibowl, the storm blew in quickly, and snow as dry as dust gave the wind visible shape and form. A swirl of snow rose into a wave that crashed into the trees, sending a spray down our heads as we followed each other to the top of another lap of chalky pow. On the slow chairlift rides back to the top, we caught up on life, sharing our heartbreaks, challenges, and joys. I was thankful to be among such incredible company.